Zero-notice days off

This seems like the nub of it. The issue isn’t about zero-notice days off, as such, it’s about synching a Beeminder weekends-off-type calendar with a work calendar that might change at short notice, for a subset of goals.

For all that there’s a slippery slope in the general case, work usually has commitment-keeping mechanisms (like a boss or clients) that often don’t exist in the worlds of more personal goals.

I’m tempted to propose a tickbox that removes the akrasia horizon for an individual goal so that a break could always start tomorrow.

Most of the time you’ll still schedule national holidays and travel well in advance, but sometimes work is unpredictable. With my ‘no excuses’ hat on, I try to keep my pledges low enough that a day off is just the price I pay for a day off, even if that ‘day off’ is an unexpected day onsite with a client that means other work is deprioritized.

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After further consideration, and reading everything that’s been said, I think the best balance between being concise , easy to manage, and effective, would be as follows:

Proj1Name_z
Proj2Name_z
Proj3Name_z

The units are “minutes worked or minutes approved time off”, where each day of time off counts as the same number of minutes that you would normally expect yourself to work on that project, per day. (The _z isn’t necessary, but it’s just suggesting a naming convention that this is a special case goal.)

This is how I would do it. There is absolutely no slippery slope in this definition. The units are precise, and exactly as defined. You do end up sacrificing the tracking of exact minutes per project, but that is not necessarily the purpose of beeminder. It’s not the primary purpose in my mind. I think what you’re really looking for beeminder to do is to keep you on track on the days that you are working, and this will achieve that in the most simple manner.

I think this is part of the beauty and power of beeminder, is that you can define your goals and units any. way. you. want. And you can include extra notes in the longer description field, if and when necessary, to clarify certain situations that you did not foresee up front.

And, of course, nobody is perfect, and if a situation comes up where it doesn’t work out when it really should have, you can still tap into emailing support.

So again, this is just how I think that I would do it.

EDIT: I just thought of one thing I would put in the extended notes. I would say that I’m not allowed to add approved time off until the day I actually start my time off.

EDIT 2. As a matter of convenience, I would also allow myself to enter all of my contiguous time off in one data entry. So if I was given 3 days time off, I can enter one data point that would reflect all three days. Some people may have a philosophical issue with that since “those days haven’t occurred yet”. I personally don’t have that philosophical issue. It’s best to enter data concomitant or after the event, but I also like to keep things as practical and as low friction as possible, and in this case, I just wouldn’t want to be burdened with entering in work type data every day on my days off.

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I like this approach. It might also be good to specify when you’re logging time off in the comment, so that you have the option of filtering them out in the future if you’d like to do some data analysis.

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I like it too. Especially with the note about not logging until the day of. I can think of it as making the line relatively flat.

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@coolhandlouis this seems like a great scheme. Just one note: did you know that you could easily enter data in advance for several days for a goal? (I didn’t until about two weeks ago, and I’ve been beeminding for years!)

  • First way is to click on the small “Advanced Entry” link under the “ADD PROGRESS” buttom in the Enter Data box on the right of the graph (web interface). That takes you to a multiline entry box, where you can enter data in the appropriate format, including for days yet to come! Very useful for example with a Do-Less goal where you can, in advance, cancel out the “pessimistic presumptive entries” which will otherwise show up for those days.
  • Second way is to use the email interface - this is actually the same formal as the Advanced Entry format, and similarly can be done in advance.

So if you had been given two days off by your boss, you could just enter their minutes in advance in this way, and skip happily off to your internet-free vacation location.

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It took a while for my Thanksgiving vacation plans to finalize and now half of my time off is within the Akrasia horizon. I’m used to entering data on my days off at this point using the scheme proposed here, but this is my first Real Vacation and I’m realizing I’m stuck when it comes to the autodata goals. So I’ll be e-mailing support about derailings from a hotel room? :\

I can believe that the Akrasia horizon is a net positive for some people, but boy does it only ever make my experience worse. My Beeminder buffers don’t determine when my family goes on vacation, my family does! It actually feels terrible to deplete my buffers during a time when I’m not actually committed.

Sounds like a case where it might be best to ask support to add the breaks for you, given that you might not be able to notify the team of non-legit derailments on time.

It’s interesting that you feel the akrasia horizon is completely pointless and never valuable to you in any situation. If you know that you’ll always follow through on exactly what you say you’ll do unless prevented by outside forces, and you never need the threat of having to pay, then what are you actually using Beeminder for? If you don’t suffer from akrasia at all, then what’s your use-case here? That’s sort of a combination of interest for Beeminder’s sake (it’s useful to know what features people are here for), but also a personal food-for-thought as to whether it’s really true that you don’t have any trouble with akrasia (no need to answer that part if you don’t want to).

For me, personally, I think it’d be a terrible idea to allow my family to dictate my responsibilities on zero notice. I’m an adult, I’m responsible for my choices. I couldn’t tell my boss, “Well, my mother wants me to go on holiday with the family starting this Thursday, so I’m going to take Thursday and Friday off whether you like it or not” – so I don’t say that to Beeminder either, because it defeats the whole point.

How that plays out in reality: if Mum did say that, then I’d decide whether I could go and still discharge my responsibilities, or satisfy the goals before going, and whether I’m willing to take the consequences if I can’t. If I can’t go without derailing on my goals, and I’m not willing to pay, then I don’t go.

And to be clear, that would most likely mean choosing to derail on some of those goals. That’s fine by me, because that’s valuable. If I choose not to study for two days and I’m not beeminding it, then the costs of that aren’t clear immediately, but nonetheless, there are costs. Beeminder makes those costs immediate in a way my brain can reckon with, and that cost scales with how often I’ve made the trade-off (assuming I don’t cap my pledge). That’s the beauty of it!

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I’ve been using Beeminder since February(ish?) and I’ve derailed often, even goals that would be easy to cheat on, like self-reported water-drinking. I use Beeminder because those well-deserved lumps motivate me to become more resilient. I usually have a specific form of resiliency in mind when I set up a Beeminder goal:

  • I commit to a minimum level of exercise, even on bad weeks.
  • I commit to maintaining the velocity of all my work projects when I’m in the office, regardless of meeting load.
  • I commit to spending quiet time alone even when chores pile up to the ceiling and my home feels small, since I’ve seen how bad things can get when I don’t.

When I derail in those situations, I look at what went wrong and try to improve my strategy. Beeminder has helped me so much with this.

But…

  • I don’t commit to exercising when I’m driving 6 hours a day.
  • I don’t commit to working on vacation.
  • I don’t commit to alone time when I’m in the desert with my wife for the day.

There’s no lesson for me in derailing in those situations. If my life were such that I had to drive a lot, I’d care about my exercise regime holding up in the face of long stints on the road… but as things are, I don’t care.

When I say that the akrasia horizon doesn’t help me, it’s because it doesn’t matter to me when the situation changed. If I find myself driving to the desert with my wife, clearing our calendars from the car—especially if we came up with the idea to do so that morning—that’s what I want out of life and I wish Beeminder could support commitments on those terms.

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(To be sure that this is clear, here I am posting about my personal experience with Beeminder, and not as someone who works for Beeminder, insofar as that is separable – obviously working for Beeminder informs my outlook.)

Sure, Beeminder’s a blunt instrument in some ways. I would argue though that it’s not that there isn’t a cost to deciding not to do your goal for whatever reason, including reasons that are about the way you want to live your life. There is a cost: the thing that’s important to you for whatever reason (long-term health, meeting your work goals, learning a new language, etc) doesn’t get done – and the more often you make that trade-off, the further off your ultimate goal becomes. Whether that’s by your choice or not, or whether that’s how you want to live your life or not, is pretty immaterial – it’s a fact. Beeminder provides the tools to allow one to plan ahead for that kind of thing (the 7-day akrasia horizon), so that one is able to offset that cost or write it off in a less akratic way, rather than being motivated by one’s immediate wants.

It’s not like I’m saying that I want to commit to studying on a Saturday when Wales is playing Australia and I’ve planned to see my parents to watch the game and have dinner (ahem). Obviously spending time with my parents is something I love, also a priority I want to have in my life, and not something I’d want to be punished for doing. Obviously what I want out of life is to spend time with those I care about, watch the rugby game, and eat my dad’s cooking.

When I set up the goal, I never intended to derail on this goal because the section on respiratory viruses is surprisingly long and I didn’t realise I couldn’t finish that in my usual Monday-Friday sessions. That’s something I could only discover by working through the course. It’s not even that I’m saying it’s more important than my parents. (It probably is more important than the Wales v Australia game, admittedly.)

That doesn’t mean it’s unfair for that situation to occur now. That’s kinda the deal with Beeminder. Literally nothing is stopping me deciding that I’m not going to study – Beeminder is in no way stopping me from doing the stuff that makes my life enjoyable. I’ll have to pay $5, to remind me that it’s not a costless choice. That allows me to make the decision a little less deluded that “it won’t hurt” to skip just one day of studying. It will hurt, but it’s the first time I’ve ever skipped and only costs $5. That’s okay, then, if that’s what I choose. It won’t hurt my long-term goal too much.

If it were $90 because I’ve been derailing again and again, that’d tell me something about how far behind I’m getting, and it’d make it clear that it’s probably more important that I don’t miss it again.

Not everything is as strictly time-bound as studying. The consequences if I skip it over and over are much more apparent than the consequences for deciding I don’t want to work out, for example. Nonetheless, the consequences for the latter still exist. The whole reason behind Beeminder is that it makes the cost of deciding not to do your goal visible and emotive. It doesn’t actually stop you from making decisions about how you prefer to spend your life on the spur of the moment, whether those decisions are akratic or not. It just makes them more visible to you: what you do with that information is your choice.

For people who want more flexibility, there are ways to do that. One way is to set your rate realistically rather than aspirationally. If you know you’ll want to skip the goal one day every two weeks, on average, then you can set your rate to 6.5/7 per day. Over two weeks, you’ll only have to work for 13 days, and you’ll have that extra day free.

Another way (which I use under different circumstances) is to carry extra buffer; you can always add back to it when you’ve had to use it by either doing enough to catch up, or by adding a break, so I use this for goals where I think there’s little cost to skipping a day here or there. And yet another way is to set your goal in such a way that you can work ahead when you want to skip it.

And another way is to spend time creating your goals to create a “steppy” effect (it’s not simple and easy to do right now, though it may eventually be). My studying goals are steppy goals: I need to get a certain amount done per week, but the rate I do that is up to me. That works when you can set a target you want to reach by a certain date, and you can trust yourself to do it, and a day or two off doesn’t hurt as long as you catch up within the time period. When I was suddenly sick a couple of weeks ago, I could just skip my studying goal for those days, because the goal wasn’t due until the weekend… and then I just caught up later in the week.

Plus of course I can get a break on any goal I like by planning ahead, whenever I want. Given that I’m an adult with my own home, own means of transport, own finances, etc, there are few things I can be compelled to do and most of my actions are my responsibility.

Clearly this doesn’t satisfy all members of Beeminder, and with my Support Czar Hat on I take notes when this comes up… but Beeminder was designed this way for good reasons that I appreciate as an individual who uses the site. Nothing works for everybody, alas, and things that might make a service valuable for a given use-case actually break it for others. So it goes!

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So it goes. I really do appreciate all the care that went into the way it currently works, even if Severed Beeminder would align with my lifestyle a little more.

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I just had a brainwave that will either get incorporated into the official calendial / PSA guidance — or we’ll all laugh about it in the morning.

The akrasia horizon prevents me from making the goal easier in the very near future, but I can make it harder straight away by changing the slope using the same Take a Break feature.

When there’s a good chance that I’ll need to take some time off for something, maybe it’s worth setting a break anyway. When plans get confirmed (or positively cancelled) then I can extend the current rate at short notice.

For bonus points, make a real commitment through something like TaskRatchet to dial the line appropriately every day during what might turn out to be a break.